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LA hopes to impress Chinese with “The Los Angeles Project”

In an effort to promote Los Angeles as a contemporary art center to high-end Chinese tourists, the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board sponsored “The Los Angeles Project” art exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, which premiered on September 13 and will run for two months until November 9.

The exhibition features seven of the city’s most prominent artists who were hand-picked by the UCCA to represent the vast and complicated landscape of contemporary art in the city of Los Angeles, an important art center in the western world, which is a lesser-known side of the city mostly famous for its entertainment industry.

“The Los Angeles Project” art exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing. Photo:

Michael McDowell, vice president of Cultural Tourism of the LA Tourism and Convention Board, who came to the opening press conference on September 12, reckoned that LA is taking place of New York as the center of modern art in the United States.

“Not long ago, The New York Times proclaimed that the center of art making in the United States has moved 3,000 miles west from New York to Los Angeles,” McDowell informed the journalists at the press conference.

He added that the Centre National d'art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in France, which is “arguably the largest and the most important contemporary art museum in Europe”, identified Los Angeles as the most important art-making center in the second half of the twentieth century.

Judging by the recent rush of Chinese visitors to Los Angeles, which has made China the biggest overseas market for the city, LA is high on the list of the Chinese people’s choice of tourism destination. However, McDowell pointed out that many Chinese do not know that LA is also home to many world-class museums with impressive art collections as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, considered to be the most important Orchestra in the US. “LA is not just about Hollywood and Disneyland,” said McDowell.

The notion is echoed by Alan Clark from the Cultural Affairs section of the US Embassy in Beijing who also attended the press conference. “We think maybe the Chinese are less familiar with the vibrant art scene that’s going on there (in LA),” he said, “It really is a center of modern art”.

“LA is one of the most interesting cites of art on the planet at the moment,” said Philip Tinari, director of UCCA, the host of the exhibition, a not-for-profit art center famous for its goal of building a platform linking China and the world through contemporary art.

The exhibition, which serves the purpose of “promoting the cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the two countries,” is considered to be “the most important and largest exhibition of the year” for UCCA, said Tinari.

McDowell, who hopes the art exhibition could also serve as a gateway leading more tourists to LA for multiple trips, eagerly pointed out that it was not the whole spectrum of contemporary art in LA. “If you like what you see here, come and see more in LA!” he enthused.

Opening Press Conference at UCCA for the Los Angeles Project. From left to right: Philip Tinari, Director of UCCA, Kaari Upson, Matthew Monahan, Kathryn Andrews, Alex Israel and Paula Tsai, Chief Curator of UCCA. Photo:

Four of the seven artists attended the press conference. To them, the exhibition is a valued opportunity to communicate with the Chinese audience through art.

Kaari Upson, who amazed with her unique interpretations of domestic objects in an interior space, has never been to China before. She hopes that her work could “speak to a generation that gets it”. “Not just artists,” she added. “I have a feeling that my work will be understood much deeper than I could possibly imagine.”

Alex Israel, who brought a twenty-meter-long mural installation to the exhibition, hopes to find out whether it will connect with the Chinese. “In my work, I use the language ‘Hollywood’. It’s a language that is universal. It’s interesting to see if it’s true (here in Beijing).”

For Matthew Monahan, who has traveled extensively in China, the exhibition is a reflection of his memories of China and a record of the impact China first had on him. “My view of the world was altered (because of my experience in China) and I expressed this in the series of drawing in the book we made here,” the artist revealed. “You will see in this book a lot of motifs as well as historical references.”

“It’s interesting to have this exhibition here,” said Kathryn Andrews, who is more intrigued by what the Chinese audiences want to get from the exhibition. “I would like to see what it could offer that would be valuable (to the Chinese).” Kathryn’s tripartite presentation features scenes icons and objects from Hollywood and entertainment culture with her own unique alterations and interpretations.

A guided tour was arranged after the press conference which Tinari personally served as the tour guide. Kaari and Matthew also joined in parts of the tour where they explained their respective creative processes.

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